Tilting tourism two ways

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Long before Japan and Korea became dream destinations, Hong Kong was the Filipinos’ go-to place for holidays and quick breaks. To many, it remains a favorite. One reason for this, perhaps, is proximity ─ it only takes a little over two hours to get to the former British colony from Manila by plane. Another is ease of entry — one does not need to apply for a visa which is similar to the visa-free or visa upon entry privileges in Southeast Asian countries.

For these factors alone, Filipino visitors who go to Hong Kong for leisure or work are expected to grow in number. The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) recently said it sees Filipino arrivals to the former British colony to hit the one million mark by 2019 as it already accounted for 701,901 arrivals from January to October this year.

Hong Kong is also a major market for overseas Filipino workers with its 6.5 percent share in the estimated 2.3 million OFW from April to September 2017, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. That is close to 150,000 workers.

On the other hand, visitors who are Hong Kong residents are not as plenty but growing. From January to September 2018, some 94,356 Hong Kong-based resident tourism arrivals were accounted for. This still makes Hong Kong the 11th biggest tourism market by volume for the Philippines, with China at second place with 972,550 tourism arrivals to the country in the same period, according to the Department of Tourism’s latest figures.

Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement to draw in more tourists to the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao. It would be safe to say that the fact President Rodrigo Duterte is from Mindanao may be one of the main considerations in finally making the Cathay Dragon’s direct route between Hong Kong and Davao City possible.

“This route is a welcome development for it grants new possibilities and new beginnings and the people of Davao City and Mindanao are more than thrilled with this undertaking not only because we intend to position Davao City to be the center of international trade and tourism in Mindanao but also because it will bring people of our two nations closer together,” says Davao City mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio in a message read by Vice Mayor Bernard Al-Ag at the launch of the HK-Davao link recently at the Davao City International Airport.

Inbound Cathay Dragon flights from Hong Kong to Davao leave at 12:35 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. From Davao to Hong Kong flights, the departure time is at 4:50 p.m. also every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. All times mentioned are local.

Partnerships explored

No doubt, more Filipino tourists from Mindanao who would want to skip the congested airport of Manila will take the Cathay Dragon flight from Davao City to Hong Kong for their holidays. Cathay Pacific executives Ronald Lam and Robin Bradshaw assure that tourism will grow both ways as partnerships and potential distributions in Davao City and nearby areas are being explored for the Chinese and other foreign markets.

“In order for this flight to be successful, not just for people coming from Davao, I think we also need to promote traffic from Hong Kong and the rest of the world into Davao. We will work with the local travel agents, travel trade and also do marketing on our websites to promote this new destination,” Lam, director for Commercial and Cargo of Cathay Pacific, states.

Bradshaw, who is the Cathay Pacific country manager, says they partnered with Marco Polo Hotel in Hong Kong to promote Davao’s local artists and cuisine to Hong Kong tour operators.

“We’re working with partners to really build that presence. Davao really has something. It’s new and that’s why it’s exciting. We’ve done a lot of travel in the region so people in Hong Kong can know adventures and the food and Davao really has those things to offer,” explains Bradshaw, who was with his family in Compostela Valley and toured Lubi Plantation and Malagos.

“I think there are things we can sell, off-the-beaten track selling point. There’s the chocolate, the fruit, the cheeses. These are the world-class things that we can really sort of vouch for Davao. We’ve had a couple of the Hong Kong tours even before our flights started. After they take to Davao then they went back and they made their own trips to find and build contacts with local operators here,” he adds.

Expanding fast

He sees Chinese tourists also coming in. “We fly to more than 20 destinations in China so we can bring Chinese people via Hong Kong and then come to Davao and as you noticed a lot of people in China do.”

Lam stated that the Davao City to Hong Kong route could also be the start to travel to many parts of the world.

“You’ll be flying from Davao to Hong Kong and then connect to 20 Chinese destinations. So hopefully that will help us to become the gateway for Philippine people to go to China because there aren’t that many direct flights from here,” says Lam, who also mentioned new destinations in Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Washington DC, and Capetown in South Africa.

“We’re expanding quite fast. It will benefit people from here because they can connect through Hong Kong. At the moment, we fly to more than 200 destinations so it’s a lot of choices and, therefore, I think the flight between Davao and Hong Kong actually opens up the gateway via Hong Kong to all those 200 destinations. It gives you worldwide access to a lot of international destinations,” Lam says.

And those coming from international destinations via Hong Kong to the Philippines can fly through Cathay Pacific to get to Manila, Cebu, Clark and Davao City.

“This time of year is also a good time to start our flights to the Philippines since there are lots of returning Filipinos coming back for Christmas. I think that’s one of the reasons we need to come out with extra flights there because of the demand by people from this part of the Philippines. They don’t want to come via Manila due to their bags and traffic. So the ease and convenience of not having to go through Manila makes it really attractive for those who just want to get home to their families and maximize their time since they only get one holiday every year,” Bradshaw explains.

Cathay Pacific is confident that the new route will be sustainable. “We have been in this market for the whole…it’s been 72 years, we are committed to the Philippines, we want to grow here and so we’ve been here now for a long time we believe. We got to work hard to make it happen and make it work so that’s why we start what we do and we could make it work, “Bradshaw says.

“The government is already investing significantly in airport infrastructure around the country and we’re really excited about it. To get a strong aviation network rate, quality airports and the infrastructure radar equipment are really important for safe growth in this market. Growth in the aviation sector will be very, very significant in the Philippines for the next 10 to 15 years,” Bradshaw concludes.

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